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Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I fear I'm becoming more like my mother. More and more. Day by day.

I now find that I read the newspaper like her. Well, unlike her, I read two newspapers. At least two newspapers. The New York Times. Sometimes the Washington Post. Depending on what's happening in the world, The London Times or The Guardian.

But, most assuredly and just like her, I read the local rag.

My mother had a certain ritual to reading the local newspaper which I find I have adopted. First, a quick check of the local headlines, noting the stories I'll want to come back and read in greater detail.

Then, a quick flip to check out the sales and coupons I'll want to clip and save for later. Finally, it's on to the real reason to read any local newspaper:

The Obituaries.

It's amazing what you can learn about your neighbors after they have died - where they were born, the college they attended, the courses they studied, when they were married, the names of their sisters and brothers, mother, father and grandparents.

It's all there. In the obituary.

It's also amazing how many husbands die before their wives. I haven't done an official study on the matter, but I'm going to guess that somewhere around 60-70% of the obituaries I read contain the following sentence, "He is survived by his wife of __ years."

Rarely does it say, "He was predeceased by his wife."

I'm not sure what that means, exactly. Just an observation, is all.

I usually end my reading of the obituaries with a little prayer for the repose of all the souls who have entered into Eternal Rest before I head back to the front page. If I've got time, I sometimes compare the local 'slant' of a national or international story with what's written in The Times.

Mostly, though, when it comes to reading the local newspaper paper, I pray for the dead and clip coupons.

I recently received a copy of the quarterly newsletter from my seminary and, of course, I flipped to the back section to check the necrology. Mostly, I recognize one or two names.

This time, however, I was stunned to find the name of a clergy person in a neighboring diocese listed there.

We weren't exactly "good friends" but I was quite fond of him. He had been struggling with depression the last few years, so I would sometimes call to check in on him. We'd get together, have lunch and talk.

After that, he'd get better about checking in and then he'd drop out of sight again. I'd give him a call and the cycle would start again.

We lost touch the past year or so, and I'd been saying to myself that I should really give him a call, but then I got distracted and . . . well, you know how it goes sometimes . . . .

I immediately did a google search for his obituary. There it was. In the local newspaper. How did I miss it? He died right around Christmas. Maybe it was one of those days when I was running on Advent fumes. . . .?

At least I know where he's buried. I will head out there some time next week, to visit his grave, place some flowers there and say a few prayers.

Funny, but, it took reading my friend's obituary to learn that he had a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford. I knew he had spent some time as a priest in the CofE, and there was no doubt that he was quite bright, but I didn't know he had an earned doctorate. From Oxford University, for crimminy's sake. Why hadn't he told me that?

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that his obituary included the information that he was predeceased by his life partner. I know he had spent a great deal of the early years of his priesthood deeply in the closet. I know he had determined he could not be a parish priest and be honest about the fullness of his identity, so he specialized in interim ministry.

He was delighted that I could be out and open and in parish ministry. He always seemed amazed that Ms. Conroy and I lived in the rectory.

He wept when Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire and absolutely had to be there for his consecration.

I'm quite certain he helped to write his own obituary. I have no doubt that he wanted nothing more than to go to his grave with everyone knowing that he was an open, honest, self-affirming gay man.

Sometimes, an obituary is just a report of someone's death.

Other times, an obituary is a lovely illustration that the facts of someone's life can come together, even if only at the end, in a form of poetic justice.

And sometimes, you know, it just doesn't get much better than that.

I think I'm beginning to understand why my mother read the obituaries every day.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Births and Deaths my Grandmother used to say (in dialect, fo the fun of it ;=)

But how many deaths and lives your friend represent!

Prayers for them all.

keith nethery said...

I too have followed in the steps of parents reading (and listening to on radio) obituary announcements. It was perhaps the worst offense anyone could commit in my mothers world to interupt her in listening to the obits. When I worked in radio, I was assigned to read the obits, which was a different feeling completely. I also find that in doing a funeral you come to know people so intimately, things that you didn't know even in pastoral care. I oft say to people that, while it may sound strange, things surrounding death are most holy things.

Mary Beth said...

I always read obituaries...they are a special treat in a newspaper from a place where I know no one (ie while travelling). All those stories...all those lives.

jonesnori said...

I wrote one two months ago, for my husband, John Peterson of All Saints, Hoboken (survived by his wife of fifteen years, though I don't think I put it that way actually). It's true that a lot of people learned things about him they didn't know before. It's funny how compartmentalized our lives can be, without our even realizing it.

Caminante said...

Praying the NYT (or whatever paper you read) as I call it.

Lindy said...

A good obit is like a mini-biography.